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NFL owners approve change to postseason overtime

ORLANDO — Football coaches are creatures of habit. They like to practice at the exact same time each day. They prefer to play on Sunday afternoon, not Monday night or Thanksgiving Day or, in some cases, on another continent.

So, when it came to the league's proposal to change the overtime policy for postseason games, many opposed the idea because it was, well, different.

But coaches had little input on Tuesday, when owners surprisingly voted in favor of overhauling the overtime system in playoff games.

A movement that appeared to have minimal support on Sunday, entering the NFL owners meetings at the Ritz-Carlton Grande Lakes, gained substantial momentum in the 48-hour period heading into the 28-4 vote. The Vikings, Ravens, Bengals and Bills voted against the measure.

"It's just tradition. That's the big thing," Falcons coach Mike Smith said when asked what concerns he'd heard before the vote. "This is changing the way things are done."

And changes might become more far-reaching. Almost as big as Tuesday's vote was this unexpected news: At the next owners meeting in May, the league will take up the possibility of implementing overtime changes in the regular season, a move that would affect far more games than the average of 1.2 postseason contests per year that require overtime.

Specifically, the changes call for the team that wins the coin toss at the start of overtime to score a touchdown to end the game. If that team manages only a field goal, the opponent will get a possession. In the case of an onside kick recovered by the kicking team, a field goal would suffice for victory because a kickoff is considered "an opportunity to possess" the football. That "opportunity" is all that is being guaranteed. A safety at any point would end the game.

For some, a resistance to change was trumped by data that shows a growing number of overtime games being won by the team that wins the coin toss. Since 1994, just 38.5 percent of teams that lost the overtime coin toss won the game, down from more than 46 percent in previous years.

"There were many people on the committee who were not inclined to be in favor of this, the so-called traditionalists of which I'm proud to be one," Colts president Bill Polian said. "But once you saw the statistics and you began to go through the explanations, it became obvious that we really needed to do something."

Competition committee co-chairman Rich McKay added: "You wouldn't want a game to end — a Super Bowl, a conference championship game — where there's a kickoff, one pass, field goal, game over. … It was time to propose a change."

The true sentiment of coaches was hard to gauge, though many expressed just lukewarm support during the first two days of the meetings. But the vote was the culmination of extensive persuasion from commissioner Roger Goodell, who urged owners to vote yes. They did so in an "owners only" session while the coaches were on their annual golfing outing.

Coaches were present for the morning's general session but several, including Smith and Houston's Gary Kubiak, said the overtime debate that was expected never materialized in that meeting. Before Tuesday afternoon, all indications were that a vote was not expected until today, if at all.

McKay, president of the Atlanta Falcons and former Bucs general manager, said it wasn't as much a matter of twisting owners' arms as it was making a compelling argument.

"In years past, when we went into overtime (debates), I'm not sure we did a good job of crystallizing the statistics and making sure people understood the problem," McKay said. "I think this year we did probably a little better job."

The next phase, in May, will be to examine expanding this policy to the regular season, something that likely will require a longer debate.

"No question," McKay said, "there's sentiment by a lot of owners that says, 'You guys should discuss it.' And we will."

Stephen F. Holder can be reached at sholder@sptimes.com.

NFL owners approve change to postseason overtime 03/23/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 23, 2010 10:27pm]
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